Sprinting is unequivocally one of the best training methods for developing speed and power. It also has a potent side effect of triggering massive changes in body composition, i.e. fat loss and muscle building.
In addition to the benefits listed above, sprinting requires optimal hip mobility, which forces all partakers to train this essential yet often-neglected fitness quality. There are not many movements that can simultaneously accomplish all of these training effects.
For the above reasons, everyone should be incorporating some form of sprinting into his or her training.
But before you start blindly running suicides every morning on your neighbor’s lawn (especially if your neighbor happens to be me), hold on! You see, just like any other great exercise, sprinting does come with risks—hamstring pulls and tears are not uncommon for the overzealous trainee who is trying to sprint too hard too soon.
It can take up to three months of training to get to the point where full-speed sprinting is safe and effective. Why can it take so long? Well, first of all, as we already discussed, hip mobility must be correctly developed. But second, your legs must be conditioned to survive the rigors of the intense power output that sprinting requires.
You could certainly take the time to learn proper sprinting mechanics and build up both speed and distance over time. It is definitely time well spent. But what if you want to start killing it for real NOW? Well, there is an awesome variation that you could get after today that will yield great results and simultaneously ensure the safety of your joints and muscles.
I’m talking about hill sprinting. Hill sprints are a great way to get high quality/high intensity work in while significantly decreasing the risk of blowing out a hamstring. This increase in safety comes from the fact that the incline of the hill will slow you down. You just can’t sprint at maximum speed while running up a hill. Furthermore, the foot strike occurs sooner on a hill, thus decreasing impact.
Now don’t get excited—although running hills may be safer, they are NOT easier. In fact, they are even more demanding than sprinting on a flat surface is.
If you have the guts to push yourself, they will tax your heart, lungs, and legs like nothing else.
Once you start hill sprinting, though, you’re going to love it and what it does to your body. Feel free to share this great workout technique with your friends—just don’t expect them to come back for a second workout! I’ve seen many self-proclaimed tough guys invent some pretty creative excuses why they are “unavailable” to join us for our next hill sprint session.
So be prepared to be a lone wolf—one that is ripped and in sick shape!
Finding A Legit Hill
A worthwhile hill should be somewhere between 30-100 meters. The degree of incline will be a little harder to control, but a good rule of thumb is this: for every ten feet that you run, you should gain at least one foot in elevation. Don’t drive yourself crazy with precision here, as you’ll be at the mercy of the hills in your area.
I also prefer to use a hill that is grass or dirt. Pavement can just beat up your joints more than is necessary. If you aren’t aware of a dirt or grass hill in your area, simply ask around for sleigh riding hills, mountain ranges, landfills or anything else that may be in your neck of the woods.
Surefire Protocol For Hill Sprints
There are a few factors to consider before deciding how to work hill sprints into your training routine. Here they are:
1) Warm up- take about 10-15 minutes and prepare your body for the demands that the hill sprint will place on it.
Muscle activation drills, dynamic mobility exercises, and sprint mechanics movements should all be employed. Then after you’re prepped, take three warm up acceleration sprints. The first one should be at 60% of your max speed, the second at 70%, and the third at 80%. Rest two to three minutes—and let the suffering begin!
2) Mechanics- form is important for all types of sprinting. Hill sprints are no different, although the degree of incline will alter your mechanics a bit. Here are some important and universal guidelines:
- Use and maintain an acceleration lean. In other words, lean forward to set your center of gravity in the optimal position for acceleration. This will set your torso at an approximately 75-degree angle.
- Keep elbows bent at 90-degree angles and allow all arm action to take place at the shoulders. This is extremely important and will affect both speed and efficiency.
- Keep your chest up and out and your shoulders down and back.
- Drive your knees up high. Once they are at the top of their range, reverse your hip drive forcefully.
- Push off the ball of your foot explosively. Your heel will not contact the ground while running up a hill.
- Don’t make tight fists. To create the optimal tension in the arms, close your fists as if you were holding eggs. Don’t drop them or crush them.
3) Distance and recovery – if you want to primarily improve power and acceleration, hill sprint for approximately 30 meters and allow for nearly full recovery. A twenty to one work-to-rest ratio (w-r) should do the trick. In other words, if it takes you 5 seconds to sprint up, rest 100 seconds.
For balanced strength, power, hypertrophy, and conditioning, hill sprint for about 40-60 meters with moderate recovery. A twelve to one w-r ratio should be employed.
And for more pure conditioning, hill sprint for around 100 meters. A four to one w-r ratio would be optimal.
All of these protocols will contribute to fat burning, so if fat loss is your goal, mix them all up!
4) Timing- without knowing everything else that you’re doing in your training protocol, it’s tough to say when your hill sprints should be done. That being said, they make a great finisher to a lower body workout.
Additionally they can be performed on a non-strength training day, but just be aware that they will affect your recovery (specifically for your lower body).
5) Volume- total hill sprint volume can be between 300-1200 meters. Your specific goals and recovery abilities will factor in here.
6) Frequency- two days per week is best for most trainees as it gives you the benefits without messing up your recovery on lower body strength work.
7) Intensity- hill sprints should be done at an intensity of 90-100% of max speed.
Now you know how to do one of my favorite conditioning methods. Hill sprints may be brutally hard, but they are totally fun and effective. Now get outside, get moving like an athlete, and get into awesome shape!